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    Educational Philosophy, Home Education

    Myth: You have to have tea-time in a CM education.

    October 8, 2014 by Brandy Vencel


    Let’s talk about tea-time. More precisely, let’s talk about not having tea-time. In case you are unfamiliar with this term, tea-time is the popular name for a delightful ritual in which the family gathers together to feed body and mind. You can read an inspiring overview of the practice here.

    While tea-time can be an excellent way to incorporate topics such as art, music, and poetry into the day, some have discovered that the burden of tea time far outweighs any reward. I am such a person. Already struggling to keep up with mealtimes, I found there were suddenly more dishes to wash. My little ones resented having their afternoon play interrupted. Between serving everyone and trying to add in a poem or picture, I rarely managed to enjoy a bite. Our tea-time was anything but restful, and always managed to throw off the remainder of our day.

    I knew that, given enough effort and perseverance, we could turn tea-time into a habit we could all tolerate, perhaps even delight in. But there were more pressing issues which needed my attention, and tea-time had to go.

    Those who find that tea-time sounds impossible, or does not fit into their days, will be delighted to understand that it is not an essential part of a Charlotte Mason education. The subjects commonly studied, such as poetry, art and music, are essential, but the structure of a tea-time was largely cultural and to the best of my knowledge is not even mentioned by Charlotte in her writings.

    Tea-time is a tool. It is one way in which certain necessary subjects can be incorporated into the life of a homeschooling family, but it is certainly is not the only way. The ritual of tea-time can be a restful anchor in the midst of a chaotic day, but it is not the only anchor. Let us explore some other ways to incorporate these things into our days.


    Aside from our disastrous attempt at tea-time, the study of poetry has taken many different forms in our home. Currently it has become a treasured bedtime routine. As each child is tucked into bed, I join them for just long enough to read three poems together. Each day we leave off one and add one, and in this way our poems get read three times through. Even the toddler gets her Mother Goose Rhymes read to her, and I often hear the children reciting lines that caught their fancy as they drift off to sleep.

    Some other ways to incorporate poetry are:

    • Read poetry to older children while the younger children nap
    • Include poetry as a scheduled part of the school day, allowing the mind to take a break more focused subjects such as math or copywork.
    • Bring a book of poetry along when exploring the outdoors and take turns reading from it when you sit down to rest
    • Make it a part of morning time/circle time.
    • Read poetry before a meal, or immediately after wards.

    Art Study

    Children should learn pictures, line by line, group by group, by reading, not books, but pictures themselves … [T]he little pictures are studied one at a time; that is, children learn, not merely to see a picture but to look at it, taking in every detail. Then the picture is turned over and the children tell what they have seen.

    Philosophy of Education, p. 214

    It is important that students pay close attention to the picture during art study: another issue which complicated tea-time. But just like poetry, the study of art can be easily incorporated into the week. The circumstances which work well for poetry would work for art study as well, though it might be distracting to attempt out of doors.

    Composer Study, or Musical Appreciation

    But Musical Appreciation had no more to do with playing an instrument than acting had to do with an appreciation of Shakespeare, or painting with enjoyment of pictures. I think that all children should take Musical Appreciation and not only the musical ones, for it has been proved that only three per cent of children are what is called ‘tone-deaf’; and if they are taken at an early age it is astonishing how children who appear to be without ear, develop it and are able to enjoy listening to music with understanding.

    Philosophy of Education, p. 218

    Musical appreciation can take a little bit longer, time wise, than art or poetry. In our home we try to listen for 15 minutes, while picture study is always limited to 10 minutes and poetry rarely takes more than 5. Still, there are many different moments throughout the day that could include attentive listening to music.

    • Play music while preparing and eating breakfast.
    • Listen to music while cleaning up from dinner.
    • Listen in the car
    • Play music during the afternoon’s quiet time.
    • Schedule it into the school day.
    • Play music while preparing for bed, or immediately after everyone is tucked into bed and winding down to sleep.

    If tea-time has not been the answer for your family, make certain you don’t give up on these rich topics all together. Look at the flow of your family life and find the moments when you can stop and read a poem, focus on some Shakespeare, listen to lovely music, or gaze at beautiful art. It does not matter when you do these things, but it matters that you do them.

    For more ideas, check out this rich post on how one CM family “Fits in the nice bits.”

    We’d love to hear how you have managed to fit the “extra” subjects into your day.

    Lizzie Smith is a second generation homeschooler who is seemingly allergic to shoes. She lives out in the boonies with one long-suffering husband, four barefoot children, a wide variety of animals and a glorious view of the stars. Her discovery of Charlotte Mason has resulted in addiction to the AmblesideOnline Forums, an increase in her book collection, and a solid educational path for her homeschool. Lizzie can be found at Stronghaven, where she explains how she is slowly learning how much she doesn’t know.

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